Tag Archives: Critical Analysis

Whistle in the wind

Pennell manuscript boxes at the Maine Historical Society library.

Much to my chagrin, google Thomas Pennell + Pennellville and this excerpt of a Wikipedia article still comes up: “Pennellville was settled by Thomas Pennell II (1720–1770), who arrived in 1760 at the age of 40. His father, Thomas (1689–1723), had emigrated from Jersey (in the Channel Islands) around 1708. He originally settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He married Sarah Durrell, and sired two sons and two daughters.” Continue reading Whistle in the wind

2019: the year in review concluded

On Friday, I wrote about the first six months of 2019 as reflected through Vita Brevis posts. Herewith, the rest of 2019:

In July, Jan Doerr – whose family has long been settled in the area around Augusta, Maine – reflected on the uses of old business records:

I wanted to know how my late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century ancestors interacted with the people of the Fort Western Settlement every day, what they traded or bought from the Howard store, and why. I have no primary source material from those Fisher, Williams, or Read families, and only a few pieces from my side of the Coney family. Fortunately, other residents weren’t as reticent as my family (or as inclined to paste newspaper clippings over old account book pages!). Continue reading 2019: the year in review concluded

2019: the year in review

In January 2019, Vita Brevis marked its fifth anniversary with a series of posts, among them one on the blog “By the numbers.” After listing a number of statistics about the blog to that point, I made the following comments:

[But] Vita Brevis is more than the numbers, the percentages, the ongoing series. It is meant to educate; it is meant to entertain. Like P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, it aims to guide its readership – gently, with carrots, not sticks – to the right path, toward genealogical breakthroughs. How? By breaking down the thought processes that successful genealogists use to undertake fresh research, building upon previous work when assessing a new genealogical problem. Continue reading 2019: the year in review

Christmas for the horses

Photos courtesy of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The other night I tuned into one of my favorite programs, the always interesting and informative American Experience. I’ve been a devotee for most of the 30 years that the series has been produced. Taken as a whole, the series reminds me of one of those exquisite, perfectly-put-together album quilts of yesteryear, made by many hands, each block of eye-catching fabric elaborately designed, intricately sewn, and an expression and remembrance of the world as it was. Continue reading Christmas for the horses

Irish origins

I recently attended my first concert ever, with my husband. Whenever I listen to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s music, it puts me into a holiday mood. During the concert, I learned that founder Paul O’Neill passed away two years ago. I was curious about his roots and wanted to see what I could find. I learned from his obituary that he had grandparents from Ireland. Through a variety of interviews published online, I was able to start tracing his tree. I first started looking into his maternal side.

Paul’s maternal grandparents were Andrew Joseph Moore and Julia P. Merryman. Both were born in Ireland. The couple married in South Dublin on 13 June 1924,[1] a few short years after the Irish War of Independence. Continue reading Irish origins

Riot girls

The newest issue of American Ancestors magazine prominently features women: how to trace them, their accomplishments in the field of genealogy, and even their role “hiding in plain sight” with infants in early photographs. It seems appropriate, therefore, to share something surprising that I discovered this past summer about one of my great-great-grandmothers.

I have spent countless hours tracking down genealogical material in old newspapers, but in this case, exciting information was handed to me on a virtual silver platter through a hint on Ancestry.com. Continue reading Riot girls

Ann Jane

(Author’s note: The following is an interpretive account of the life of Leah Ann Rickards (ca. 1836–1913), my great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record’s sister. This account is presented in three parts, and is based on family papers and letters, along with vital and census records as available. These posts are my attempt at giving Leah a voice. Please forgive any historical inaccuracies, misrepresentations or presumptions, literary license, or otherwise.)

As Thomas Fisher faded into obscurity, and after the expected period of mourning, Leah[1] married her John Stack. Unsure of her legal standing, and, with neither bride nor groom caring whether she be a widow or not, they agreed to marry using her middle names, those of “Ann” and “Jane” – as Ann Jane,  a name that (after the rebukes of old Fisher’s “LEAH…”) she much preferred. And, in consideration that her father’s surname had been put up already by her marriage to Fisher, she asked John if she might use her mother Susanna’s maiden name, that of “Murphy” – in hopes that old Fisher would never recur to contest it – and that all of Dorchester County would be sympathetic, if none the wiser. Continue reading Ann Jane

‘Of the dead, say nothing’

Herb Morse, ca. 1885

De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum. Since learning this saying in high school Latin class – “Of the dead, say nothing unless good” – I have heeded it as good advice for writing family history. If anything, many past genealogists exaggerate the virtues of forebears they never knew. With Edwin Herbert Morse of Wareham, Massachusetts (1849–1923), known as Herb, my great-great-grandfather, I had the opposite problem: no one among family or acquaintances had much good to say about him. And so, for more than three decades, I have struggled with whether I should pass on how Herb was remembered. Of course, had he been recalled with great fondness, I would have written his story long before now. Continue reading ‘Of the dead, say nothing’

Mysterious Menteiths

Click on images to expand them.

As I work at reconstructing the environment in which the Livingstons of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries lived, I have been struck by the frequency with which I have encountered members of the Menteith family. (It is fair to say that there are a number of such families in this project, interrelated in various ways, but the Menteiths keep turning up!) To arrive at the early modern Livingston family, I have gone back on various lines (including the ancestry of Livingston spouses), so the resulting family trees cover individuals who were not named Livingston – or aware of these particular connections. Continue reading Mysterious Menteiths

In ceaseless orbit

Gowrie House, Perth. Courtesy of Perth & Kinross Council

As I continue to map out the connections of the Livingston family of Callendar, Stirlingshire, I am struck by how comparatively closely related the sixteenth-century Livingston family was to two of the husbands of Mary, Queen of Scots. A third connection, rather less salubrious, was to some of the murderers of David Rizzio, or Riccio, which occurred in the presence of the Queen while pregnant with the future King James VI. (Rizzio was accused by his assailants of being the child’s father.) Continue reading In ceaseless orbit